The Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie was formed in 1602 when several smaller independent companies in the Netherlands joined together to exploit the trade potential of Asia. The government granted them a monopoly from the Cape of Good Hope to the Strait of Magellan, and gave them extensive powers to achieve this: The rights to enter treaties, govern, produce coinage and keep military forces.

The company was highly successful. They worked through a mixture of brute force and shrewd politics. They gradually drove the Portuguese and British out of Indonesia, Malaya and Ceylon, and won a trade monopoly in Japan when Christianity and all the other Europeans were turned out of the country. The VOC conquered Jakarta and established their own town Batavia in its place. Any meddling local rulers they subdued. Soon the VOC had a monopoly on the valuable spices such as nutmeg, clove and cinnamon, as well as other trade goods in the region. It reached its zenith in the 1660s, when it controlled 150 merchantmen, 40 warships and 10,000 soldiers.

The explorer Henry Hudson was employed by the company to search for a passage to China through America. He did not succeed, but instead discovered the Delaware Bay. His contacts also led to lasting trade relations between the Dutch and the Iroquois.

With time, however, the worth of spices sank, and by the end of the 18th century the company was losing money. Corruption and bad management was part reason for this, as was changing international politics. Other nations, such as the English East India Company, were covering new and better markets, and the Netherlands themselves were fought and conquered by the French. The company was dissolved in 1798 and its properties taken over by the Dutch state.

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